Monday, 19, March, 2007 (29, Safar, 1428)
Walid M. Awad, Arab News
To rain heavily in March, as it did last week, is a good and hopeful sign for a good harvest this summer. Homeowners, farmers, and shepherds who still have land and houses welcomed the rain, others who lost their land and no longer have homes to shelter them did not. Those who complained about the spate of cold weather that came with the rain did so because the cold wind and gray skies added to the pessimistic atmosphere engulfing Palestine and the region.
Some people have problems, the Palestinian people have many more. It goes without saying that the occupation is the “mother of all problems” facing the Palestinian people. Israel has so far managed to continue and maintain its occupation of Palestinian land, it has expanded its settlements, enforced an apartheid regime, imprisoned tens of thousands of Palestinians, destroyed the Palestinian economy, caused abject poverty, and committed many other atrocities, while at the same time portraying itself as a victim of Palestinian “terrorism.” The hypocritical West, at least at official levels, knows the facts, and is completely aware the Palestinian people are the victim. Yet most of the support, political, military, economic, and diplomatic, goes to Israel. The Palestinian people and government for their part, as far as the West is concerned, need to prove themselves in order to get recognition and cooperation.
The Palestinian people are not blameless, and are responsible, albeit in a limited and partial way, for the situation they are in now. It is not enough to say that Israel and the West supporting it are responsible, but some of us, for different reasons, gave Israel the pretext and justification (which she did not need) to implement its designs, carve up Palestinian territory, and render the Palestinian people destitute, both inside and outside the homeland.
So far, the Israelis have been successful in aborting any meaningful Palestinian effort, peaceful or otherwise, to shake off the occupation and end it. The Oslo Accords which came about due to the pressures of the first Palestinian intifada were emptied of their content. What remains is the skeleton and a frame; the Palestinian Authority. The authority can conduct elections and form governments. This it did. Good, sound management, optimum use of resources, good and prompt decision-making ability have unfortunately been lacking in Palestinian governance. Efficient law and order enforcement is missing, lack of discipline, weak organization, and absence of real responsibility, has characterized and colored Palestinian mode of operations. Corruption, nepotism, and bad governance are widespread. Significant parts of the Palestinian public came close to losing faith and confidence in its leadership. Fatah, until recently, kept recirculating old faces, and Hamas found it difficult to deal with contemporary realities.
Hope has become a rare commodity, and people are looking forward for a comprehensive change. Should the political program presented by the government of President Mahmoud Abbas Saturday be allowed to take off, and it should, renewed hope will revisit our people and the region.
Now there is a new Palestinian government. A national unity government, born after many months of long and hard labor, discussions, and dialogue, sometimes marred by bloody internal fighting. It is hoped that Fatah and Hamas have learned their lesson.
Hamas knew that without bringing itself out of the narrow-mindedness that put the Palestinian people in the corner of isolation, causing them unnecessary anxieties and difficulties, it would lose the public support it gained in the last PLC elections. Fatah, for its part, is learning that its negative past governing experience and its long unsuccessful history of negotiating with Israel needs to be reviewed, and that a new determined approach is needed.
For their part, Israel and the Israelis are not in that good a shape. They have severe problems, including corruption, bribery, sex scandals, and nepotism at the top. Israel’s leaders are scheming to topple each other. Its economy, despite the growth figures they keep publishing, is not reflecting a healthy economic sector, and the gap between the rich and poor in Israel is widening. According to Israeli economic specialists, and despite immense financial and economic assistance it receives from the US, more than one third of the Israeli people are on or below poverty line. 84 percent of their Haredi men do not work. Crime rates are high and social instability is on the rise. Their defense budget per capita is probably one of the highest worldwide; the service on their departments is eating away a big portion of their annual budget. The education sector is in bad shape, strikes are frequent, and labor disputes with the government are on the increase. For the first time, many Israelis thinkers, politicians, writers, journalists, and academics are questioning Israel’s long-term existence.
Israel’s internal security establishment is warning of impending crises with its Palestinian Arab citizens, the apartheid regime Israel forced on the Palestinian people in the Palestinian territory is felt within the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel. Some 430,000 Palestinians living in and around Arab East Jerusalem on both sides of the 8— meter high concrete separation wall, are in a pressure cooker. Israel’s blatant government, municipal and settler provocations in Arab East Jerusalem are continuously increasing the pressure.
In short, both the new Palestinian government and the Israeli government have their plates full. A new approach by both governments is certainly needed. In its political program, the new Palestinian government empowered President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO to hold peace negotiations with Israel. President Abbas, guided by the said program, enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people.
The new Palestinian government, if allowed to, will be busy rectifying long years of bad governance, enhancing international political standing, reinvigorating the Palestinian economy, injecting reform and change into the Palestinian establishment, and most important of all, enforcing law and order, and the principle of one authority, one law and one gun. Should the new Palestinian government be successful in implementing its program, this will give the Palestinian cause a much-needed boost, and will elevate the Palestinian struggle for freedom, democracy, independence and statehood to the forefront anew, and earn the respect and support of the international community. This in turn will immensely help President Abbas in his endeavor to reach an equitable, just, settlement for the Palestinian people with Israel based on UN resolutions, the Arab peace initiative and President Bush’s vision of a two-state solution.
The Palestinian government’s new political program essentially calls for reciprocity, give and take, Palestinian and Arab recognition of Israel vis-à-vis an Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian land occupied by Israel since June 1967, and a just, agreed upon resolution for the Palestinian refugee problem. Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have been going on since 1993. Far— reaching skeleton understandings were reached between both sides, but were not concluded. Concluding these understandings and dressing this skeleton with flesh requires real international intervention, political, economic and financial.
Acknowledging that the new Palestinian government is not entirely the long awaited panacea, it is however a very important leap forward. The biggest problem lies with the Israeli government, and its insistence on dictating its unacceptable terms to the Palestinian people. This brings us to the indispensable and critical role of the world community, the Quartet in particular, and the need for peace to prevail in the Middle East. Without effective intervention of the Quartet armed with international legitimacy resolutions, protecting the principles of justice, freedom, democracy and liberty for all, peace between Israel and the Palestinian people will be very difficult to achieve.
The US, EU, the UN and the Russian Federation’s direct and honest intervention can make a difference, and will hopefully rescue Israel, the Palestinian people, and peace from the current downward spiral pushing us all into the abyss. The time has come.
— Walid M. Awad is associated with the Central Media Commission in Ramallah.